A broad range of railway sector operators from different countries and fields attended the trade fair held in Berlin. What kind of reception did Digirail receive among fair visitors? And how does Finnish innovation compare to the rest of Europe?

The biennial InnoTrans trade fair was held in September in Berlin. This year, the world’s largest trade fair for the railway sector brought together almost 3,000 exhibitors and about 140,000 visitors. The event had originally been scheduled for 2020, but had to be postponed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

Finnish participants included the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency and Fintraffic, who worked hard to create plenty of visibility for both Finland and Digirail at the event. Their aim was to promote discussions with a variety of international operators, and to carry out market surveys of equipment suppliers’ offerings.  

“At the trade fair, we can see what others are doing around the world and what is achievable in various markets. We also have the opportunity to meet members of the network we have been building up, and to have discussions with a variety of operators. Digirail’s concepts and goals received a lot of positive feedback during these discussions, which naturally motivates us to continue along the path that Finland has chosen,” says Juha Lehtola, who is project manager for Finland’s ERTMS programme at the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency.

Finland in a unique position compared to the rest of Europe

At the InnoTrans trade fair, exhibitors are divided into five areas: railway technology, railway infrastructure, public transport, interior design and tunnel construction. Maintaining good channels of communication with these operators will promote Digirail’s twin goals of identifying suitable areas of development and piloting solutions that can also be utilised more broadly at EU level. 

Digirail has the potential to be a forerunner in Europe, as the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) has never been used in Finland before. This means that Finland is not burdened with a history of accustomed practices, and will therefore be able to develop new, future-proof solutions much more freely.   

“Finland’s advantage lies in the fact that Digirail is already an implementation project in itself, and our development work is being carried out as part of this project. This brings both structure and a goal-oriented approach to what we are doing, while many other countries are only carrying out development projects. We’ve worked hard to make our efforts visible on an international scale. Now our three years of hard work are beginning to bear fruit: at the trade fair, we learned that the Finnish model is starting to be of great interest to other countries and also to industry. Although regulations are currently being developed in a way that highlights the maintenance of existing systems, others could also follow the path paved by Finland and focus on future possibilities,” says Lehtola.